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Wagstaff’s Picks: Weekend of September 21-23, 2017 September 19, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Football.
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My picks last week were so wrong, so pathetic, so ultimately crappy…. I decided I needed to overhaul my methods.

As tempting as it was to continue picking the same way and then simply applying the George Costanza “just do the opposite!” theory, I instead went through EVERY lined game and crunched data on the spreads & outcomes.

My goal? To come up with a more automatic screening system, similar to stock screens.

I’ve tried lots of stock screens. Some of them have actually worked. And when they’ve worked, they’ve been pretty consistent, if I stuck to the rules and didn’t let emotions sway me. Let’s see if spotting weaknesses in what the oddsmakers post can work the same way.

Although if you’re paying attention, last week’s Duke game illustrated the contrarian rule I mentioned – when a spread seems WAY out of whack with what you think is reality, bet with it… the oddsmakers know more than you. Duke by 14 seemed high, but then they won by 14. ON THE FRICKIN’ NOSE.

I made the HUGE mistake of listening to too much sports radio and some podcasts about betting football lines. I let the discussions amongst the professionals influence me, especially in going with teams like Pitt, BYU and Louisville last week.

I’m tuning all of it out. Back to playing Count Basie and books on tape during my drives.

I will cleanse myself of outside influences.

First, I went through all the lined games from last week, all the stats and so forth. 59 games in total. Jeez.

I set up some screens, crunched some numbers, and came up with a set of screens that would have had solid results last week. So, let’s try an experiment and see if it works with week, with a bonus level added. I went through every lined game for this week…. 56 of ’em this time. Oy. But here’s what I came up with…

College Football Picks Passing ALL Screens:

Penn State by 12 1/2 over Iowa

Clemson by 34 over Boston College

VA Tech by 28 over Old Dominion

Navy by 11 1/2 over Cincinnati

UNLV plus 40 1/2 against Ohio State

Michigan State plus 4 against Notre Dame

Ball State plus 7 1/2 against Western Kentucky

College Football Leaners – Most Screens passed, but not all – for experimental purposes only:

S. Florida by 20 over Temple

Duke by 2 1/2 over North Carolina

Purdue plus 10 against Michigan

LA Tech plus 8 1/2 against South Carolina

Kentucky plus 2 1/2 against Florida

E. Michigan by 2 1/2 over Ohio U

Under 51 1/2 in the Georgia State/Charlotte game

Syracuse plus 23 1/2 against LSU

No NFL picks this week – the system I put together needs more data, and they haven’t played enough games yet.

My pathetic record thus far is 7-16-1 for a batting average of 30%. BUT THIS IS WHERE IT ALL TURNS AROUND!

Hopefully… the screens I’m using would have returned a 9-1 record last week with a bunch of different games I ignored. I’ll take a chance that doing that well above a 50% “control norm” is a big enough disparity to prove the worthiness of my screens. Let’s see what happens this week, and if I’m actually on to something here.

And a shanah tovah to y’all!

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Wagstaff’s Picks: Week of September 16, 2017 September 14, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Football.
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I’m not going pro, not yet. Not after a mediocre record last week.

It wasn’t enough to watch the Patriots defense dissolve into melted butter. I also misread some teams that could not cover big spreads, and it looks like USC is for real. Well, so far, anyway.

I’ll swing for the fences this week with a dozen picks I have decent levels of confidence in, as well as discussing a couple of others where I’ll bow out and leave it up to you.

College Games:

I looked at a bunch of matchups with large spreads to see which ones I thought were overreactions to the first couple of weeks of games. We’re still in that phase of the early season in both college and pro, before the oddsmakers have more and more data to work with.

I like BYU plus 17 against Wisconsin. BYU has sucked so far, I’m going with the “they’re DUE!” factor since they are a better team than how they’ve played so far, and they’re at home. I don’t know if they’ll win, but I’m guessing it will be a low scoring game, and 17 points is a lot. I also like Pittsburgh plus 14 against Oklahoma State, banking on Pitt coming off a tougher game versus Penn State and Oklahoma State coming off playing Tulsa and S. Alabama.

For covering a big spread, I like the aforementioned USC to cover 15 1/2 over Texas as well as taking the Over 67 1/2 in that one, and Minnesota to cover 10 over Middle Tennessee State.

The game that jumps out of the odds board is Duke as 14 (!) point favorite over Baylor. Baylor was once a national power, but they have truly sucked so far this year, never mind all the problems they’ve had with their program off the field. Duke has played well, but are they really this good?? My number crunching puts Duke at maybe a 3-4 point edge, so part of me thinks this is a slam-dunk pick to go with Baylor. But in the back of my mind is an old contrarian angle when it comes to out-of-whack spreads like this, which is: the oddsmakers know more than you. They’re NOT that stupid… so while the number-cruncher says Baylor, my contrarian gut says to go against the crowd and pick Duke. Consequently, I am not making a pick here, but will instead merely observe to see what wins – my numbers, or the contrarian historic angle.

Another game that’s a close call but ultimately a pass for me is Miami OH by 5 over Cincinnati. I’m fairly confident in Miami OH to win, just not sure about the 5 points. Meh.

Rounding out the college picks: In the big Saturday night game, I like the at-home-revenge angle and will go with Louisville plus 3 1/2 against Clemson. Clemson got by them last year, but it was close, and Jackson has improved as QB. It’ll be a good game that I think Louisville can win outright. I also like California at home plus 3 1/2 against Ole Miss, and I’ll go with the Over 49 1/2 in the Tennessee/Florida matchup.

NFL:

After watching Kansas City beat the crap out of my team last week, I am TOTALLY UNEMOTIONAL as I pick against them this week.

No, really!

I like the Eagles plus 6 against the Chiefs, as well as the Over 48 in the game. Philly looked decent against Washington last week, and the Chiefs lost their best defensive player.

I like betting Overs. Especially when the total is topped earlier in the game, and I can kick back and watch the rest of it play out with no stress and a drink in my hand, knowing I’ve won. Betting unders mean staying nervous until the final tick.

I also like the Vikings plus 5 1/2 against the Steelers, and the Packers plus 3 against the Falcons, even if it’s the Falcons in their spiffy new stadium. The Falcons squeaked by the Bears last week, and the Packers are way more dangerous.

So there you are, 12 picks. I went 3-5 last week to bring the season totals to 5-6-1.

THIS IS WHERE IT ALL TURNS AROUND!

Wagstaff’s Picks: Week of September 9, 2017 September 7, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Football.
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Nobody seems to care about my football picks. Posting them doesn’t significantly increase the traffic this humble blog gets on a regular basis. But I don’t care. I’ll keep making them for my own jollies.

And the biggest jolly? Like I said last week, I have a better batting average with these things than most of the professional pickers out there posting picks (especially with spreads and totals) on bigger sports sites like CBS or ESPN.

Therefore, I’m basically posting a free giveaway of money to anyone simply betting my picks. Read my site and make money. And people don’t bother.

I always knew in my dark heart that the majority of people are morons, and now I have definitive proof.

CATS IS BETTER.

I went 2-1-1 last week. I’ll continue my BOLD RISK TAKING by picking some NFL games in the opening week, without any stats to go on. And there are a few college games I like.

College:

I think Clemson can cover 5 against Auburn, and Washington State to cover 10 1/2 against the Boise State team that scored late to force that tie in my picks last week. As much as I think USC will win the game, I’ll still go with Stanford plus 5 1/2 against them, since I think it’ll be close.

NFL:

Let’s go with the Falcons to cover 7 against the Bears, the Raiders plus 3 against the Titans, the Steelers to cover 9 over the Browns, and (I can’t believe I’m doing this…) the Rams to cover 4 against the Colts. I’d also go with the Under 41 in the Rams/Colts game.

So am I still giving away free money? I guess we’ll know by Sunday night.

 

Wagstaff’s Picks: Inaugural College Football Edition, Weekend of September 2, 2017 August 31, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Football.
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college-football-bettingIt’s time for everyone to leave their safe space and confront the intersectionality of irresponsibly sourced animal product, the capitalist exploitation of undergraduate hopefuls, and the disempowering patriarchal sexism of the male gaze on the sidelines.

College football is back! And just in time, too… it seems like everything else we read about colleges these days makes them sound more like insane asylums combined with summer theater camp. I’m sure the morons in sports broadcasting will try their damndest to drag all of the repulsive college campus zeitgeist into what ought to be an escape from the news during their commentary, but another advantage of watching games on the big ol’ screen is that you can do so with the sound off.

In any case, as much as I normally like to wait a few weeks into the season before prognosticating on the outcomes of games, I decided to plunge right in this year. Last year I finished with an overall 59% winning percentage in both college & NFL picks. A little research told me that’s actually good.

I know, really??

But evidently, that’s how well the SUPERGENIUS game pickers all over sports radio basically do at their BEST. Most of ’em have losing records or barely even out, meaning a coin flip would be a better method than listening to people who EARN THEIR GOD DAMN LIVING analyzing sports.

I guess it’s just like any other field, that is – a crammed space of highly credentialed yet underqualified people. WELCOME TO MY WORLD.

Okay, enough bitching, and not enough bragging about my winning percentage. Let’s start with some simple picks, based mostly on how I think the bookmakers have misread some things.

In the BIG MATCH-UP MARQUIS GAME for Week 1, we have #1 Alabama by 7 over #3 Florida State. I think both of these teams will probably make the playoff at the end of the season, but in this opener, I think ‘bama will win by 10 or more, so I’ll take Alabama to cover.

I also like NC State to cover 5 over South Carolina. They were underrated last year, with most of their losses being under 1 score.

For underdogs, I mostly like Texas A&M plus 3 against UCLA since UCLA does even worse against the spread than A&M, especially early in seasons. I REALLY like Troy plus 11 against a fading Boise State outfit.

The enigma game I’d love to pick but really can’t is Michigan/Florida. I’ll watch it, it’ll be a good one, but even though I lean towards Florida as a 5.5 point underdog, I think Michigan will be trying to prove themselves all year long since winning the Big 10 playoff game is basically a trip to the championship playoff game, and they’ve got both Ohio State and Wisconsin in their path. I’d only bet this game if I were really, really bored in a Vegas sports book with an extra $5 burning a hole in my pocket. Other than that, it’s just one to watch.

It’ll be a good weekend to stay indoors, too, at least where I am and it’s 110+ every day outside. Ugh. Autumn can’t come soon enough, and not just for October baseball.

Hike!

Quick And Easy Chinese Spicy Shrimp August 4, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
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The Martin Yan cookbook I snagged a month or so back at a rummage sale for a buck continues to pay dividends.

Tonight I concocted a slight variation on one of his shrimp recipes, and came up with the following:

  1. Peeled/deveined about 3/4 pound of large-ish shrimp (16-20s)
  2. Tossed ’em with a pinch or two of kosher salt, one minced garlic clove, and a couple of pinches of red pepper flakes
  3. The shrimp and seasonings would then get stirfried until practically done in a wok, maybe 4-5 minutes.
  4. Added the premixed sauce: 2 1/2 tsp soy sauce, 2 tsp ketchup, 1 tsp hot chili paste, 2 tsp honey.
  5. Thickened it a tad with maybe 1/2 tsp of cornstarch in 1 tsp water.

AND THAT WAS IT.

This was amazingly easy to throw together, and tasted just great. Hints of sweetness with the honey, followed up with a sneaky increase of heat and then a finish of the garlic.

Yan’s version leaves the shells on the shrimp and dusts ’em with cornstarch before wokking ’em with dry red chilis and garlic. But the sauce is the same. The texture on his version would be different, but I’ve never been crazy about leaving the shells on shrimps. If you fry ’em enough and they crispy, fine, but I didn’t trust myself. And I still got what I wanted – shrimp in a thick, clingy spicy sauce.

A recurring motif in this Yan book is also the use of balsamic vinegar and hoisin sauce to create sweet/sour effects underneath chili heat. The Kung Pao recipe uses this, as well as some others, and I discovered it worked rather well. Despite large amounts of chili paste with red pepper flakes on top of it, the dishes do not come out overly hot, but well balanced.

AND my copy is an autographed first edition! Not too bad for a buck.

Random Baseball Card of the Day: 1970 AL Homerun Leaders July 15, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Well, maybe not so random. I remembered this card in my collection the other day when Aaron Judge won the All Star Break Homerun Derby. Judge made it look easy, and with his enormous 6 foot 7/280 pound frame looked like a man among boys. A guy that huge can generate a lot of power, and when you combine that with the physical and mental skills you need to hit major league pitching that Judge seems to have acquired between last year and now, well… you get the kind of monster stats he’s piling up.

But I thought back to Frank Howard, the big slugger for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the early ’60s before pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium lessened Howard’s sweet spots. They dealt him to the lowly Washington Senators in 1965 in a multiplayer deal that would net them Claude Osteen. Howard would continue to hit the hell out of the ball in Washington for years, always winding up in the running for home run titles. He’d get it in 1970 with an impressive 44 homers and 126 rbis, with a .962 OPS.

Yaz might be number 3 in homers on the card, but his offensive numbers that year were amazing. 40 homers, 102 rbis, lost the batting title by fractions to Alex Johnson, and led the league in on base, slugging and OPS with 1.044. How the hell did he lose MVP to Boog Powell that year? Did they need to pick someone from the Pennant Winner and eventual World Champion Orioles? SMH.

Harmon Killibrew smashed homeruns for the Twins his entire career. Back when this card came out, only Aaron and Mays had more lifetime as active players. He’d pass 500 homers lifetime the following year.

But both Killibrew and Yaz were baseball player sized. Both are 5 foot 11/180 or so pounds.  Guys like Howard were freakish, at 6 foot 7 and 230 pounds. You find guys that big much more in football and basketball than in baseball, the sport that welcomes guys like Freddie Patek (5 foor 5, 148 pounds) if they can play well.

Add 50 pounds of muscle to Howard and you get Aaron Judge. Ye Gods! I’m glad he’s on my team. It’s basically watching a behemoth the size of Rob Gronkowski with the baseball skills of Willie Mays.

Howard was the best slugger to ever play for a Washington team, even if that team is now in Texas. The current Washington team put a statue of him outside their stadium anyway, since he’s part of the city’s baseball history. And everyone still loves the guy since he’s so good natured.

The bigger they are, the nicer they are, as Bugs Bunny once said.

Keep Those Reviews Coming July 7, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Writing.
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A quick update on the literary canon of yours truly:

I have an appearance in the Independent Book section of the current issue of the New York Review of Books. (Link opens to a PDF). This is sort of an experiment on my part – I’m assuming the disproportionate majority of people who look at this particular outlet are directly related to the publishing biz – agents, editorial assistants, “scouts” and so forth of various degrees. It’ll be interesting to see who takes notice.

And if you do, that email is just over to the right… drop a line and say hello!

Another nice thing to happen is that readership of Wagstaff & Meatballs is driving more interest in the first book in the series, Cut To Wagstaff. Sales of that have perked up and new reviews might start to appear.

The third in the series is in the plotting stages, if you’re curious.

The first book of a different series, this one a lightly comic scifi adventure series for younger readers of all ages, is in the illustration stage.

AND I’ve been selling all sorts of old crap on ebay for way more than I ever thought I’d get. At some point, I’ll be able to see the floor in my closet once again!

Everything’s coming up Milhous!

So if you’re out there & haven’t posted a review of either book to Amazon yet, please join in! People in other creative fields get to enjoy the reaction from their audience immediately. Writing can be a lonely thing – you spend countless hours cobbling the thing together & banging it out, only to send it out into the world for dribs and drabs of reaction over time, if you get them at all – since reading, too, is a solitary and often lonely thing.

But I wanna know! What to people think? Any minor characters you particularly like and want to see more of in future stories? Any aspect of the book really stick with you?

I can never predict these things, so I’m always curious. I think all writers are, whether they admit it or not.

So keep ’em coming, thanks!

 

What Are Dreams Made Of? June 27, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in General, Writing.
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A quick note relating to a dream I had last night.

Not a dream with some celebrity in it where the plotline gets surreal and bizarre…. sorry, I save those gems for the Wagstaff novels.

In this dream, I met a woman who complimented me on my hair out of the blue as I walked past an old now-gone drug store in a shopping center from my childhood. You’d think I’d’ve known I was dreaming at that point, but I simply stopped in my tracks and decided to talk to her.  Hell, overcoming my shyness and chatting about my haircut with her should have clued me in that I was in a dream.  But I guess I’m bolder in the dream universe, so I talked with her about getting my haircut and checked her out and see if I could get a date out of it.

Much like what I’d do in real life, I made a point of looking at her eyes while I talked, since I either revert to my “Hey, Jim must be on the spectrum!” behavior of looking away from people as I talk, or reverting to my “Hey, Jim is a friggin’ dirty old sod” behavior by looking, well, elsewhere.

So because of that focus on her eyes, I got to study this young woman’s face while I chatted with her.  The image of that face stuck with me when I woke out of the dream and saw 5:53am on the clock. I thought about the face for a moment and it mystified me.

For  the life of me, I have absolutely NO idea who it was. (more…)

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1977 Big League Brothers, Rick & Paul Reuschel June 27, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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I’ve always liked the multi-player “special theme” cards Topps would do every so often. What I like the most about this one is how neither of these guys look like major league ball players. Without the names and the tell-tale 1977 design font and so forth, doesn’t this look like a polaroid from some company softball game?

“Here’s Rick and Paul, right before the BBQ and sack race…”

Paul Reuschel’s career with the Cubs only lasted a few years, but younger brother Rick had a pretty solid, if uneven, 19 year career in the majors. Rick had his best season the year this card came out, winning 20 games and finishing 3rd for the Cy Young.

The Cubs would trade Rick Reuschel to the Yankees in 1981, where he managed to play in the World Series, although without stellar numbers. He wound up back on the Cubs during their heartbreaking 1984 season, where they FINALLY reached the playoffs. For some reason, Reuschel was left off the playoff roster, and the Curse of the Goat went into action. The Cubs won the first 2 games of a best of five against the Padres, and then dropped 3 straight. They’d have to wait another 32 years for a World Series at Wrigley.

Reuschel got dealt to the Pirates and Giants after that, won a comeback player of the year award, wound up in another World Series in 1989 with the Giants, but they lost to the As and Reuschel finished his career sans World Series ring.

In today’s game, with the scientifically developed conditioning regimens, the constant spectre of PEDs floating around, and the overall athleticism of the majority of the players out there (regardless of height), seeing a pair of guys who look like these make the majors and in Rick’s case, have a long solid career as a reliable stopper fooling batters with speed changes and finesse…. well, it’s just something I’ll always love about baseball.

Football? You better be a big guy, made of iron to take all those hits.

Basketball? You gotta be tall, and also made of iron to take all those hits.

Hockey? You gotta be all those things, PLUS not care about getting all your teeth knocked out, PLUS be ready at any moment to get in a brawl.

But baseball? You can be an average schlub and play the sport….depending on your skills and how you use them.

 

The Slow & Ambling Paths of Plot Percolation June 20, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Movies, Writing.
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“So, where do your ideas come from?”

It’s one of the more common questions writers are asked.

While still promoting the current Wagstaff novel, I’m also into the develop-the-outline stage of Wagstaff 3 at this point, even while I hone the edges on a different series of books that will appear shortly.

Bow down, helots! I’m a multitasker!

I also made a fresh fettucine bolognese completely from scratch today, but you already knew I’m a CULINARY GENIUS.

Anyway, to get back to the “where do my ideas come from?” tack, since the Wagstaff series regularly features motifs, actors and plot points from all sorts of old movies and TV shows all mashed up together, damn near anything I watch might wind up in one, somewhere.

Especially if all that pop culture junk turns up in some off the wall dream I have. Every dream Wagstaff has in both of the books that turn out to be clues are ACTUAL dreams I’ve had in real life, by the way.  But that’s for another post.

Today, I wound up watching a couple of obscure movies I can tell you about.

I’ve already thought of the main-plot-drivin’ films I think I want to mine for the plotline of Wagstaff 3, but if any quasi-related tangential material crosses my radar, I usually feel obliged to watch it, just in case some detail or odd factor inspires me to use it. It’s basically the same mentality I use when browsing yardsales and thrift stores – I never know what might turn up, but after something does, it feels totally natural.

Today I started by watching Nick Carter: Master Detective, the first of three Nick Carter movies (more…)